In grief, inspiration

09:16 AM August 23, 2012

Nauna ka na naman. Hanggang ba naman sa kamatayan ay nagmamadali ka?”

“As usual, you got there first. You’re always in a hurry, even in death),” is my free translation of the opening spiel of Susan “Toots” Ople’s blog. The full text in Tagalog was sent to my inbox yesterday by the Freedom of Information Yahoo group.


Ople is the youngest daughter of the late Labor minister and senator Blas F. Ople.  A fierce advocate for Overseas Filipino Workers, she is the executive director of the Blas Ople Foundation. The Oples of Hagonoy, Bulacan are natural disciples of Francisco Balagtas, the king of Tagalog poets.

Among the flood of tributes heaped on the late Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, I find Ople’s piece both interesting and moving because of her active knowledge of the late cabinet secretary.


In 1998, they went to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Jesse took up Masters in Public Administration with special focus in the subject of Ethics. The Pinoys who were in Harvard at that time, apart from Robredo and Susan (who took up a course in political communications), included Arlene Pamintuan, Corina Unson and Amina Rasul. Their Harvard stint was the bond in their professional collaboration in good governance and in the process of pushing a certain advocacy, Ople also had a glimpse of Robredo as a family man.

Susan’s blog covered a lot of ground, from the up close and personal impressions drawn from intimate interaction to the working style of the man, again drawn from eyeball to eyeball experiences in the context of his numerous duties and responsibilities as cabinet secretary, husband and father and kuya (big brother) to all.

Almost everyone credits Robredo for being an asset of the administration in bringing about reforms in government and society but Susan notes that all of his public life beginning in 1986 treaded the “daang matuwid.” While the Liberal Party (LP) put the finishing touches to the 2010 anti-corruption slogan with the P-Noy administration eventually fleshing out the program with concrete actions, Robredo had been there, done that in Naga City.

How Jesse built Naga into a showcase city of progress that brought improved quality of life for his people is a textbook example of good governance rooted in ethics.

Bringing out his beloved city from poverty was arduous and risky.  In the end, his dogged determination paid off and Naga City had become jueteng free for more than a decade. For Susan, this feat stands out each time the Senate launches a legislative probe in aid of legislation. What a pointed way of saying that Congress probes about jueteng are all for show!

Susan’s blog provides an answer why the LP tasked Robredo to handle party issues in the local level. He was very accessible and had a knack for finding realistic solutions.

One of Robredo’s outstanding and forward looking initiatives in Naga City is the wise use of new technology to boost good governance. He had a website created for the local government so people would know how their money was being spent. This, long before the debates over the Freedom of Information Act started.


* * *

The tragic death of Secretary Robredo has wrought so much pain to his family, friends and co-workers in the Aquino administration and even to people who only hear and read about him in the news.  I and many friends of mine who haven’t had the chance of meeting him feel such a sense of personal loss that we are confused why a good and decent man is gone too soon.

I took some direction from the social networking site, from someone who posted, “Lord, may we find inspiration through our grief.”

I think that will be in Susan’s thoughts as she tries to accomplish one of many tools that she and Robredo conceptualized in pursuit of good governance.

The idea is to mobilize people in the barangays in the campaign against illegal recruitment and human trafficking. The campaign will be done in coordination with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and civil society through the Ople Foundation.

A memorandum of agreement had been worked out, which the good secretary was supposed to review but he missed the important meeting. I had the impression he delegated the task of harmonizing the MOA to Susan, with the assurance that he will sign the document in the POEA office but for intervening events that spoiled the plan.

With Robredo now gone, Ople is even more motivated to accomplish, as she called it, the difficult homework, as her way of paying tribute to Kuya Jesse.

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